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Justice Reform Commission makes 450 proposals - proposes fines for minor misbehaviour by judges, magistrates

The Justice Reform Commission this afternoon handed the government its final report on reform of the sector, making 450 recommendations.

Chairman Giovanni Bonello, a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, hoped that the 450 "seeds would flourish and become trees."

Some of the proposed reforms were difficult to achieve while others were easy to bring about, he said.

Those who had an open mind for reform should not find reason to resist these changes, he said, but, unfortunately, he admitted, there were some professions which had a tendency to resist change.

Owen Bonnici, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, said the government would move ahead quickly on the proposals about which there was consensus. In the more sensitive areas, such as the disciplinary mechanism for the judiciary, the government would thread carefully and consult all parties.

The recommendations will be discussed with the Opposition as it was important that there were consensus, even when a a two-thirds majority in the House was not needed.

Asked whether he expected resistance from the judiciary, Dr Bonnici said he had regular meetings with the Bench and found cooperation and good will to bring about change.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Among its recommendations, the Commission proposes giving additional disciplinary powers to the Commission for the Administration of Justice, the method of appointment and removal of judges, the setting up of a prosecutions office and ways to improve the efficiency of the law courts.

With regard to the appointment of judges, the recommendation is for judges to be nominated by the Commission for the Administration of Justice which would then submit its recommendations to the government. The commission would also make recommendations on the appointment of a Prosecutor-General, legal aid lawyers and court experts.

With regard to discipline, the Chief Justice would be empowered to draw the attention of judges and magistrates to behaviour which in not in keeping with their office.

Disciplinary cases would be referred to a Disciplinary Authority presided by a judge elected by the judges, a Magistrate elected by the magistrate and a representative of the people selected by the President of Malta. The Commission for the Administration of Justice will hear appeals.

Penalties will match the behaviour such that minor misbehaviour would not mean impeachment.

There should be a warning for a first offence and a fine for a second or other cases, up to a total fine of €1,000.

Major cases would still mean removal from office.

The warnings and fines would not be made public. However a final recommendation of impeachment would be communicated to the Speaker of Parliament.

A judge undergoing proceedings would be suspended if the case involves dereliction of duties.

Minor infractions include misbehaviour in or outside the hall, improper comments in the hall or in sentences and documents, contraventions which would undermine respect to the law, borrowing which is not made from a licensed institution, major ignorance of procedure, scandalous and reprehensible public life, conflict of interest which is ignored, unjustified abstention from a case, undue delay in handing down sentence, habitual socialising with lawyers appearing before the court, tardiness in sittings, regular failure to attend training, failure to hand down sentence within six months of the end of proceedings, receiving a gift, failure to use the diary system, failure to conduct one's duty according to law, abuse of position and abdication of duties.

In some of the above, the commission said, the cases may be considered and treated as being major, depending on circumstances and gravity.

See the final report on pdf below.

Attached files

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